A PreSales Storytelling Mindset in Deals & Up the Chain of Command

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What is the greatest secret to improving one’s golf game? This was the question Brian Cotter, SVP of Global Sales Engineering at Seismic, asked to kick off an executive networking session we held recently. His answer to elevating your golf performance is maintaining an “honest scorecard” to identify and track the areas that require development. Over time, this precise measurement allows you to break the game into smaller pieces and hone in on the specificities. 

In addition to self-improvement, Cotter, a Vivun customer and renowned PreSales leader says that measurement and data are also the keys to telling a convincing story. This is true whether you are doing it for a given deal or taking your perspective to the C-suite. A compelling story will use data to prove your points and incite action.

Why is data storytelling such a hot topic these days? 

Naturally, humans need a narrative to connect with the data and help them develop a reason to care and invest emotionally. When you think about it, this idea of bringing quantitative, technical thinking alongside empathetic, creative, problem solving embodies the perfect Sales Engineer. So it’s no wonder that data storytelling is effective in deals. Consider the tried and true Challenger Sale. Steps 3 and 4 are about Rational Drowning, followed by Emotional Impact. Given the skills required for these steps, it makes sense that this is typically the point in the sales cycle where the PreSales gets heavily involved. 

As a PreSales leader, Cotter applies this magic with his C-levels to impact strategy and critical results for the entire company, let alone his own department. For example, PreSales has become a key source of insights for the Chief Revenue Officer’s Sales strategy.

“With Vivun, my PreSales leaders show me exactly where they are impacting revenue. This enables us to adapt our strategies to improve win rates, move faster, and close more business.”

ED calnan, CRO at seismic

In his true fashion, Cotter has codified how to take your stories to the C-Suite to win more influence and give your team a systematic approach to win more deals.

Let’s recap Cotter’s formula for telling better stories with data. The beauty of this approach is that it works for any scenario: prospects, your PreSales team, Product Councils, and the Executive boardroom.

First, uncover your story 🔍

To tell a good story, you have to get the perspective right. You must ask questions like: Who will be consuming this story? Will it be your champion? Their stakeholders? Get really clear on who your audience is before doing anything else because stories are all about connection, and you should be clear on who you want to “hit in the feels” with your narrative. Try to see the world through your audience’s eyes so that you can get their attention, genuinely empathize, and build rapport. Cotter says that you must understand the 4 P’s to do this well. That is an audience’s pressures, problems, priorities, and plans.

When I think back to my days working as a Solutions Consultant, understanding the 4 P’s was the outcome of a great discovery process, and it required investment and transparency on both sides of the table. 

I remember a deal where our champion was under a lot of pressure to meet some corporate objectives. Creating a new program was her path to a promotion. The problem was that it was a new fiscal year, and it wasn’t budgeted. Now, this was a public company, and at the time, I was selling software for HR and Corporate Communications teams to engage with their employees. Of course, our solution was in my champion’s wheelhouse, but without the budget, we had to establish that it was a priority for the global company. Through assessments, conversations, and research, we uncovered a charter to improve employee satisfaction and communication given their workforce’s remote and “deskless” nature. With this knowledge, we bolstered our champion’s confidence to ask for a budget and create a plan that clearly mapped back to their corporate objectives.

Next, prepare your story 🤔

Here is where data is going to be your best friend! While we start with the emotional inputs, we need rational insights to give the audience confidence that we’re making the right bets and can execute our plans to deliver value.

Going back to my deal anecdote, we knew that we needed data to justify the cost of our platform. We had uncovered a priority to raise Employee Satisfaction. That sounds like a great thing to do, but we needed metrics to illustrate how we would drive impact. We positioned scores from recent employee surveys against our customers’ scores in similar vertices (anonymized, of course). We prepared an ROI analysis that demonstrated how an increase in employee engagement would reduce attrition and improve the bottom line. Ultimately, we used these data points to back up our story and lay a sound foundation for the emotional draw.

Preparing your story for internal uses that go up to the C-level will contain very different foundation data. But the framework you use to organize this into a persuasive presentation applies in both cases.

Here’s just one example of a framework you can use to prepare a story. This is how Cotter organizes his story to communicate PreSales product insights from distinct data points in the field, through capabilities and market opportunity data, and then ladders up to an executive-level product theme.

In the instance of an executive Product Roadmap discussion, leveraging a framework like this will get your feedback noticed, it’s going to be a more efficient use of your time, and it’s going to help you create allies across other department leaders.

Finally, present your story 💥

Now, you’ve got all of the pieces of your story lined up. It’s time to bring them to life and make the delivery memorable and actionable. You must present with what Cotter refers to as the 3 C’s: confidence, conviction, and context.

While the flash and the framework are key, Cotter stresses the importance of “situational fluency.” This means that while you have a plan, first and foremost, you are reading the room and adapting to the current climate. You have to think on your feet to make sure that your story is landing. Consider the timing, will your message land better under different conditions? It can be even harder through Zoom, so keep that chat window and video thumbnail grid open throughout your presentation.

Reflecting on my old deal again, the “go wide” meeting was one of my best. I had flown across the country, holed up in my corner of the airplane, followed by my corner of a hotel room gearing up for my big presentation the following morning. There was a pointed attention grabber, there was audience participation, and of course, there was a damn good demo. I’d like to think that the culmination of my work alongside my sales rep was instrumental in getting the deal done. The truth is that it wasn’t the largest opportunity I ever worked on, but it was one of the most rewarding. We not only uncovered, prepared, and presented the story. We shaped it. Subsequently, our champion’s career was catapulted to the next level, and I still smile when I see her posts on LinkedIn.

Want more codified insights from Brian Cotter? Keep an eye out for the second post of this 2-part series, and check out this webinar we co-hosted with Yuji Higashi, co-founder of the PreSales Collective, for a double click into what it’s like telling stories with PreSales data and “catching the liars in the room” at your next Product Council.

Aaron Sun Avatar photo December 21, 2021